Monday, March 12, 2007

"friendship is the only choice you have in life..you can't choose your family, goddamnit I've had to face that..." Raul Julia as "Carlos" in Tequila Sunrise

I have always loved this quote, as well as the movie it came from and the late, great actor who delivered it. In the context of the movie it is a comment on both the betrayal of family and the loyalty of friends.

In the context of restaurant life the quote teaches a valuable lesson even though it doesn't really apply--you see in a restaurant the staff itself is a chosen family. Maybe not in a monster like a Cheesecake Factory or the Ebbitt Grill or Tavern on the Green, but in most restaurants and bars that stand the test of time, the staff itself becomes much more than the sum of its parts, and much more than a harried brigade of co-workers.

I have chosen the individuals that make up my restaurant family--Many of these people have been with me coming on a decade, and most of them I will not forget as long as I live. Most of them are good, strong, intelligent, and principled people just like the members of any other family. Like any other family as well there is also a full measure of screwballs, kooks, thieves, ball-breakers, loners, liars, and weaklings. Just like any other family to a certain extent you take the good with the bad.

The difference between a regular biological family and a restaurant family is that there is a probationary period in the restaurant that a normal family doesn't have--whatever pops out of Mom is automatically part of the club whereas in the restaurant it takes awhile before arms are opened and hands outstretched. Even though I do as little hiring as possible, every year at w-2 time I am astonished at all the people that have come and gone in just twelve months, and a little embarrassed when some of the names don't even jog my memory. Most of these people however, though employees, were not at the restaurant long enough to become family.

The loss of a restaurant family member is always hard, no matter what the reason. People graduate, move, retire, or mature beyond our unique industry. More rarely someone has a flame-out and basically disappears, and once in a blue moon someone blows an engine and commits a cardinal sin that results in termination.

With all my fearsome reputation, I hate to fire people--even people that I personally dislike or know to be purposely ignoring their responsibilities. I can comfortably say it is the worst part of my job. What makes this onerous responsibilty even more troubling is when a family member slowly goes bad and has to be let go--in such a case emotions on my side run high, because not only have I been professionally let down by the employee but I have also been personally injured. Counsel given, favors granted, Christmas gifts, references, contacts, loans [sometimes bail money], confidences shared, and loyalties exchanged are but a small listing of what my family of employees can expect from me. I demand the best, and I give the best, and when I am betrayed I tend to bleed from deep wounds.

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